Hidden deep amongst all the extravagant blowouts, grand orchestral performances, strobe-lit dance parties, blood-splattered metal shows and twitching, apoplectic broken-beat DJ sets of Airwaves, one small, humble, quiet show came close to topping them all.
The preternatural Jófríður Ákadóttir, well-known for her work with Samaris, GANGLY and Pascal Pinon, twice showcased her new, in-development solo project. At the second show, in front of a room of cross-legged festivalgoers on the floor of Hotel Alda’s cavernous lobby, Jófríður’s performance immediately silenced the burble of conversation into a stunned, pin-drop hush. Her delicate, minimal guitar notes and quietly impassioned singing style felt like having poetic secrets whispered into your ear. Augmented by some wonderful, sensitive drumming by virtuoso percussionist Magnús Trygvason Eliassen and some subtle synths and effects from a small ensemble that included her father, composer Áki Ásgeirsson, the songs blurred together in the best possible way, hinting at a considered, coherent, formidable new body of work on the horizon.
I catch up with Jófríður the next day to talk it over, finding her eating soup at Bryggjan Brugghús after a Saturday afternoon off-venue performance with her moody electronic-pop trio GANGLY. She’s in good form, chatting and joking with a group of friends, in the heart of the Airwaves mood. Having seen her play these songs with three completely different bands (including notable collaborators such as Mr. Silla and Úlfur Hansson), and under a few different names including “JFDR” and simply “Jófríður,” I ask if all her recent performances are representations of the same project.
“Yeah, they are,” she confirms. “I’m still working on the name. It’s been JFDR, and it’s been Jófríður… it’s actually quite hard to name yourself! Your parents give you your name, and then suddenly you have to rename yourself again! But hopefully I’ll find it soon.”
As the set at Hotel Alda progressed, lyrical themes emerged, including change, loss, personal growth, repetition, and sweeping musings on the nature of… everything, really; like the purposeful marking out of a philosophy on life via a song cycle.
“They are very personal songs for me,” Jófríður explains. “I know it’s a cliché, but I put a lot of work into the lyrics. The lyrics are poetry—I look at it that way. I normally hate it when someone says things like that, that their work is more like composition than songwriting, and their lyrics are more like poetry, but whatever—it fits, here. I’ve always been able to express myself well with words, lyrics, poetry.”
The songs were written across the course of the last year, and contain a contemplative, intimate feeling that came from the solitary writing as the seasons changed. “I can time these songs across the seasons, like a diary,” says Jófríður. “But it also has that circularity of the seasons—it starts where it begins, and begins where it ends. There’s no conclusion, because I start with a conclusion, and loops back to it. So It’s about both the circle of the seasons, and the other circle, of life. That’s the big concept I’m working on with this—the circling of everything. You’ll hear when the record comes that the lyrics have a story—I get inspiration from the weather, and where I am in the circle of the seasons. I’ll talk about something that happened in the past, when it was summery, but put it in the context of coldness, and winter, and feeling cold inside. It’s been a year since I started writing it… it’s like completing a circle.”
The most Jófríður
As remarkable as the songs themselves is the different ways Jófríður has presented them live, based on the rolling cast of her performance ensemble at any given time. “I had Maggi [Magnús Trygvason Eliassen] play the drums with me at Airwaves,” she says. “I’ve never played with a live drummer before. I wanted to play with very creative, experienced drummers. I recorded some stuff with Greg Fox from Liturgy, the metal band—he does insane drone drums. I also recorded with Shahzad Ismaily— he’s just an insane drummer. And then Maggi is very high level—he’s incredible. I asked him to just jam on top of the loops, and told him a little about the structure, but we never got a really good rehearsal—so I’m putting a lot of trust in my players. And I give that trust freely, because I love them and I want their contribution. Maggi tears things apart and lifts things to another level. Then I have my friend Bergur who holds things together—he’s the glue. And then I’m the drive.”
But despite the freedom given to her collaborators, Jófríður is firmly in the aesthetic driving seat, and as a result, this music is perhaps the “most Jófríður” of her collected output so far—there’s a tangible sense of quiet intelligence, perceptiveness and subtle sensitivity flowing through her new music. “I do enjoy being ‘in charge’ with this project,” she says. “I have so much open space for randomness. I’ve played once or twice a month since I started doing this, because I guess people heard about it and are excited to hear it. And I can play alone—or I can ask literally anyone to join me for a show.”
Better yet, these different interpretations of the songs will eventually be set down in the studio. “I want to make alternative version of the music—I don’t want to just do it the traditional way,” Jófríður explains. “And I’ll do that as I start releasing stuff. But it’s quite early to be talking about it—I have a new Pascal Pinon album on the way, and Samaris, and this GANGLY project. I hope that the solo work will gradually take over. But people are so concerned with getting this big quick breakthrough and getting this massive moment in ‘the now.’ But I want to do this project for many years to come, and so I will have to build it very slowly and steadily.”
This is also the first Jófríður project to be written solely in English, a decision she has very much enjoyed. “English is a beautiful language,” she smiles. “Icelandic is beautiful as well of course, but the vocabulary in English is crazy. I can pull, stretch, expand, say things in so many different, specific ways… I can really make a sentiment that could be quite bland come to life. For me that’s a wonderful platform to experiment. I just want to be honest in the lyrics—I try to say real things, but also to let people find their own stories inside the lyrics. I try to make them memorable.”
And memorable they are. As we say our goodbyes and head back out into the city-wide party of another wonderful Airwaves festival, I hope it won’t be many more seasons before this music makes its way to our record collections, and perhaps makes the winter feel just that little bit warmer.